Investigation reveals more than 150 fake firms, many with ties to China, are targeting people online, breaking their hearts – and emptying their bank accounts

Since it came to prominence in 2021, the fraud – which involves scammers grooming their victims before stealing huge sums in cryptocurrency – has led to losses of hundreds of millions of pounds and prompted warnings from Interpol and the FBI.

Last month, an inquest heard that one UK victim, a former police officer and father from Wiltshire, took his own life after losing about £100,000 – his entire pension lump sum – in a scam bearing the hallmarks of pig butchering.

The term “pig butchering” comes from the Chinese sha zhu pan and refers to the process of slowly fattening a pig for slaughter. In pig-butchering scams, victims are groomed over a prolonged period to gain their trust.

The crime became widely reported in China around 2019 but has since spread around the world. In 2021, the FBI received complaints relating to crypto romance scams in the US that resulted in $429m in losses. In the UK, there is no specific data on pig butchering but, nationwide, crypto fraud is rising rapidly. In the year to December 2022, reported losses in all crypto scams rose 72% to more than £329m, according to ActionFraud.

Behind the scenes, the industry is even more sinister. Last year, an investigation by ProPublica revealed that thousands of people were being trafficked from across China and south-east Asia to work in “scam sweatshops” run by Chinese criminal syndicates, many of them in the Cambodian coastal city of Sihanoukville. Lured by fake job ads, the workers are coerced into defrauding people around the world. If they resist, they can face “beatings, food deprivation or electric shocks. Some jump from balconies to escape,” the report said. The UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, likened the conditions to a “living hell”.


Free Legal Advice

Do not send any money, trade or invest with a person that you have met online. Furthermore do not disclose your financial positions or investments and do not share your personal information with strangers. Do not provide your banking information or any personal identification document to anyone online unless you can verify their authenticity.

If you are a victim of such a scam and are in need of legal representation you can contact via email at or via contact form on our website and ask any questions that you might have.